Twelve Beers for Christmas #2. SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION FRESH HOP IPA 2018, 2016, 2004, CHICO, CAL.
Date: December 26, 2018
The Story— This is an Ex Post Facto (sorry) entry for the second of our 12 beers of Christmas. See our first post here.
Sierra Nevada first brewed Celebration in 1981. They didn’t call it an IPA then, but it certainly helped define the style. It isn’t a wet hop ale — the hops are dried in the usual way– but they do use the first harvested hops to make it. the “Triple C” combination of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook have appeared in thousands of beers since, but in 1981 it was a revelation. Before too many years passed, we made it a point to acquire a few cases and always kept some to lay down.
Sometime in the early 90s Sierra Nevada expanded distribution and in the process shorted the Mid Atlantic states. We went on a trek all the way to Boston looking for our usual two or three cases. In store after store, the staff would say they had just run out — in one store we actually saw the last three cases rolling out on a dolly. We finally got our quota but we had to drive hundreds of miles to do it. It taught us that a very hoppy beer could be a commercial success. Inspired, worked with Old Dominion Brewing Company to brew a beer with the same sort of hop magnificence that would be available year round. We softened the big hop kick just a bit and brought the alcohol level down enough to be able to have more than two without a disabling hangover. The resulting Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival and put our daughter through college.
We’ve continued to lay a few bottles down for vertical tastings. Some of the hops recede, though more remain than you’d expect. Most importantly Sierra Nevada’s quality control is so remarkable that we’ve never tasted a hint of “biological instability” allowing us to taste beers even 14 years later.
The Beer— The 2018 is another masterpiece. In some ways, its a brew of “almosts”: It’s almost too sticky sweet and almost too stinky hoppy, and almost too much. But it resolves into a fine balance as a bit of peppery spice from the hops joins an increasingly clean malt for a beer that becomes more and more moreish. I doubt if it’s currently the best IPA in the country — the way it certainly was in the early 80s– but it’s definitely a classic.
The 2016 version had, predictably, more malt and a bit of toffee we didn’t find when it was fresh. The hops act more like subtle spices in a stew rather than perform a starring role. We went back and forth between the two — the flavor of the 2016 was different, but just as compellingly good.
2004 was oxidized, of course, but still showed some lovely malts, dark fruits and a good deal of sherry. I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to obtain a bottle this old, but it’s a testament to Sierra Nevada that a 14 year old bottle of a beer that should at its best when fresh is even in the conversation.
Value — Very good to excellent. It’s a classic beer at a competitive price.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.